Saturday, December 13, 2014

Serving A Cruel Master

"No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.  - Luke 16:13 (KJV)

WHAT IS A MASTER?


The meaning of "master" in our Lord's discourse can be summarized by a definition provided by Joseph Thayer.  Literally, "he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has the power of deciding."  It is the same Greek word which is most often translated as "lord" in the New Testament and is, as such, applied to the Lord Jesus Christ.  More simply stated, a master is that which has the ultimate control in an individual's life and is their lord, owner and ultimate possessor.  Christ made it very clear that it is impossible for more than one entity to serve in that position and any attempt to serve two masters results in a completely divided heart, mind and conscience.

To have a more adequate understanding of who we are supposed to be as Christians we must first determine what entity we are serving and the nature of that which holds the position of "master" or "lord" over our life.  Our understanding must be clear enough that we base our decisions and our concepts about ourselves upon the sovereignty of our master.  Unfortunately there are many who cannot make this honest examination without reaching very unreasonable conclusions.  Many have an understanding of God which portrays Him as a malevolent and vengeful being who exists for the purpose of punishing all of humanity for every infraction.  God is the all-seeing eye-in-the-sky waiting to pounce on any hapless individual who would deviate for a fraction of a second from a path of perfection.  The Deity becomes not only the policeman of the universe but the obsessive stalker with a voracious appetite for the blood of those weaker than Himself.

The image of God which has been created in the mind of too many Christians is that He is so holy that He cannot possibly be as gracious and loving as other Christians seem to believe.  The result is the tragic creation of a "two-ditch" theology where God is either so holy as to require total asceticism or so gracious as to demand nothing of His creation.  One is a tyrant while the other is a libertine.   Both are equally wrong and of an unnerving origin.  Both theologies are created by another master, another deity.  This one is the cruelest master of all: a master called "Self."

MASTER SELF

Sadly, too many Christians spend their lives trying to fulfill what they think God expects out of them rather than actually living the life the Lord intended for them to live.  This creates a paradigm of chronic spiritual dissatisfaction.  Just as a drug addict pushes the limits of his addiction in pursuit of the next high, the one who serves Master Self is perpetually bound to fulfilling the desires that "God" has for their lives never realizing that the only god imposing such high expectations upon them is the Master Self.  Gross hypocrites are born under the tyrannical reign of such a cruel deity.  Jesus Christ promised that His children were to have "life and that more abundantly," yet such a life cannot be found in the perpetual pursuit of what one "thinks" God expects from them.

Master Self will remind you that you are not possibly living a life that is pleasing to God because you still fight spiritual battles.  Master Self will berate you for reading five chapters in your Bible instead of ten.  Master Self will beat you for praying thirty minutes instead of an hour.  Master Self will put a saddle on your back and ride you into the ground while convincing you that the voice of self is the voice of Jesus Christ.  But herein we may see the great difference between Master Self and Master Jesus.  The nature of the voice of Master Self will rain down chastisement with condemnation while the voice of Master Jesus will chastise lovingly as a father disciplines a child (see Hebrews 12:7).  The Christian is often his own worst enemy victimizing himself in the name of God.

One of the greatest hindrances to a move of God in an individual's life is low spiritual self-esteem.  Saul McLeod commented, "people with high self-esteem focus on growth and improvement, whereas people with low self-esteem focus on not making mistakes in life."  There must come a point in a Christian's walk with God where it is realized that God is looking for personal progress instead of human perfection.  The Christian's perfection is in Christ (see Hebrews 10:14).  The will of God is that we grow in grace (see 2 Peter 3:18).  No, you probably aren't where you "could be" in your spiritual walk.  That doesn't mean that you aren't where you "should be" at that point in time.

Consider the following points that may help you in shutting out the voice of Master Self and once again being able to hear the voice of Master Jesus in your life:

THREE STOPS

1. Stop gauging your spirituality by the "spirituality" of others.  "But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding."  (2 Corinthians 10:12 ESV)  Christians are soundly admonished by the Apostle Paul that comparing ourselves to ourselves is ignorance.  Stop looking at other people and trying to be as "spiritual" as they are.  Find your own relationship with God and walk with Him.  It is okay to look at others as examples but when the example of another becomes a point of personal condemnation, it's time to put your eyes back on Christ.  While there are many generalities which God expects out of everyone, the particulars of your walk with God will most likely not be the same as anyone else.  For example, one may be very boisterous in prayer and demonstrative in praise while another is very quiet.  That doesn't mean one is more or less spiritual than the other.

2. Stop judging your present spiritual condition based upon past experiences.  "Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." (Ecclesiastes 7:10 NIV).  This does not mean that we should never "remember from where you have fallen" (Revelation 2:5) but that living in the past is unhealthy and unwise.  Today is not yesterday.  Things change.  People change.  Circumstances change.  Living for God is not about trying to measure up to your nostalgic perceptions of how things used to be.  It is finding God again today and walking with Him today and following Him today.  A lot has changed since yesterday.  Don't build your house there.  Live with God today.  Your experiences will not always "feel" same but that doesn't mean that God disapproves of you.  Adolescence doesn't feel like infancy.  Middle-age doesn't feel like adolescence.  Old age doesn't feel like middle-age.  Just because the feeling and dynamic of your walk with God today are different doesn't mean that you're doing something wrong.

3. Stop thinking God expects you to be "enough."  "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Just as with the Apostle Paul, there are things in every Christian's life which serve as thorns in the flesh.  While they may not be sinful, they are burdensome and produce anxiety in the Believer's heart and mind.  Christ would call us to Himself and declare that, though we are not enough, His grace is enough.  Am I praying enough? Am I fasting enough? Am I reading my Bible enough? Am I witnessing enough? Am I living the perfect Christian life?  The answer to all of those questions is, "Probably not."  This should not be a point of self-condemnation.  The purpose of an honest introspective inventory is to reassess your spiritual habits and make adjustments as need be; not to provide Master Self with ammunition to accuse you with.  The truth is you will never be "enough" nor does God expect you to be "enough" in your own judgment.

THREE STARTS

1. Start forgiving yourself and reminding yourself that you are forgiven.  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins."  (1 John 1:9).  Who are we to hold against ourselves the fact that we are forgiven?  And in this we may known for certain that God has forgiven us: the Christian is promised that confession brings forgiveness.  The Christian may not feel forgiven because of the weight of condemnation brought down upon him by Satan and Master Self, but forgiveness is a reality, not a feeling.  When you feel like you can't forgive yourself, let Jesus Christ be your Master again.  He has forgiven you.  God has not only forgiven you of your sins but understands you.  God knows what it feels like to be a human being with all of our emotional, physical and spiritual battles and is "touched" by it (Hebrews 4:15).  Literally, Christ sympathizes with us.  That is not the perspective of a God ready to destroy; it is that of a loving Father ready to restore, to heal and to forgive.

2. Start reminding yourself daily of who you are in Christ. "My soul shall make her boast in the Lord." (Psalm 34:2).  Start each day by reminding yourself what God has said about you as one of His children; as a Christian.  You can download a free .pdf file called Who I Am In Christ by clicking HERE and use it as a guide in helping remember all that God has said about you in His Word.  These are not comments made about perfect people or perfect Christians.  This is how God views you as His child.  Learn to see yourself as God sees you and you'll find a loving Master in control of your life.  Having been born again puts the Christian into a particular relationship with God which is different from the rest of the world.  As a Child of God by the new birth (see John 3:3-5) you enjoy a familiar relationship with God.  While an earthly father may love other children, the relationship with his own is far different in every aspect.  How he thinks of them, cares for them, provides for them, loves them, disciplines them, his opinion of them; in every point the relationship is particular.  So it is between the Heavenly Father and His Children.

3. Start living instead of surviving. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."  (John 10:10).  Holding yourself to high expectations might be good but holding yourself to unreasonably high expectations is unhealthy in any area of life.  This is especially true in your walk with God.  God did not purpose for us to merely survive this life.  Start examining your expectations of yourself reasonably.  Write them down on a piece of paper and ask yourself: IS THIS WHAT GOD EXPECTS OUT OF ME OR WHAT I EXPECT OUT OF ME?  If you are living to please God you will find an abundant life ahead of you.  If you are living to please Master Self, a life of fear, doubt, discouragement, self-loathing, condemnation and frustration awaits.  It is wonderful to have plans, dreams, aspirations, ambitions and goals but those are all secondary to the primary desire of God for you: life and that more abundantly.  If there is no joy in your Christian service, you just may be serving Master Self instead of Master Christ.  Live while you're alive.

MASTER JESUS

The Master Jesus defined Himself, His nature and His gift to others beautifully in Matthew 11:28-30:

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

In this we can easily discern the voice of Master Jesus.  His voice is gentle and gives rest.  When, as a child of God, the voice blasting out expectations in your head is harsh and unnerving, rest assured you are not hearing the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The voice of God will be convicting but never condemnatory to His child.  The Lord Jesus has called us to peace in Him and life more abundantly.  When the Christian is weary from his own exalted self-expectations he may run to Christ and find rest.  Walking with the heavy load of self-loathing from failure to measure up to your own expectations placed upon you by Master Self in the name of "Jesus" is so wearying that many simply collapse beneath the weight and die spiritually.  Don't allow it to happen to you.

"But if you try and fail in your trying,
Hands sore and scarred from the work you've begun;
Take up your cross, run quickly to meet Him; 
He'll understand; and say, "Well done." 
 - Lucie Eddie Campbell

Friday, November 28, 2014

What Will You Do With God At Your Feet?

"Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him." -  John 13:3-5

The scene was like none other in history.  The Almighty God, the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, who had come in human flesh to live among men and reconcile the world unto Himself possessing all the power and authority of Deity and worthiness of honor and praise was now stripped of His formal robe, wrapped in a towel and washing the dirt from His Disciples' feet.  It is little wonder that such an extraordinary circumstance would be met by a certain degree of apprehension and, as usual, Simon Peter was the first to voice his feelings on the matter.  

"Lord," Peter asked, "do you wash my feet?"

Jesus answered, "Peter, you don't understand what I'm doing now but you will understand later."  

"You will never wash my feet," Peter replied sharply.  

Lest Peter should be judged too harshly, consider the context of his mindset.  For all of his faults, it would appear that Peter's understanding of the Divine nature of Christ was as solid as any of the Disciples.  "You are the Christ," he would declare on one occasion, "the Son of the Living God."  It is no coincidence that the Apostle John would frame this occasion with the fact that Jesus, as the Son of God, had received all things from the Father, was from God and was returning to that station.  Knowing the identity of the One who was engaging in the menial task of washing feet, Peter's objection was quite natural.  Why would any worshiper allow God to perform a servile act of humility and obeisance and wash their feet?  Peter was in an understandably uncomfortable position.  

This incident should serve to teach us an interesting insight into the nature of God in His relationship with His Disciples.  It is sometimes the earnest desire of God to put us into uncomfortable positions and unconventional circumstances so that we might learn something about Him and about ourselves.  For Peter, the lesson was one in servitude, humility and redemption.  For us it may be a number of things.  But it is very safe to say that God would not place us in a position intended to do us harm.  If the will of God brings a Disciple to a certain place, he may rest assured that there is a benefit to be enjoyed in the end.  

Peter's objection was met by Christ's logic.  "You don't understand what I am doing now but you will understand later."  This is the remarkable promise of God in the midst of otherwise inexplicable circumstances.  The peace of God that passes all understanding comes with the ability of the Disciple to rest in the omniscience of his Lord.  In other words, there is no need to worry about that which God already knows.  One should simply trust Him.  In doing so discomfort will be a frequent companion, many protests will be made and even more will be considered but not voiced.  These are natural reactions.  Consider what degree of protest a piece of coal could make from the pressure of the process of being transformed into a diamond.  

How have you responded in these situations?  Have you looked down and found God kneeling at your feet with a basin of water putting you into an unforeseen discomfort?  Is your God sovereign enough in your life to do so without protest?  If not, are you willing to accept that your Lord knows what is best for you and wouldn't discomfort you without a good reason?  Would you leave your feet in the water long enough for Christ to wash you by the regenerative properties of trial and testing?  

There is no place God would take us lest it be for our own good.  Saying so is one thing, believing it another and accepting it joyfully yet another.  Christ was undeterred by Peter's protesting.  The Lord gave Peter a simple explanation of man's limited knowledge in regard to God's view of the larger picture and how the piece fits with the whole.  Peter protested still.  Christ patiently reasoned again.  Peter relented.  What a loving Saviour.  What will you do with God at your feet?  He's there for a purpose.  Allow Him to take your feet in His hands and watch revelations begin to be disclosed as He washes away the dust of the journey and prepares you for your future.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Day Without Morning

"Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." - Psalm 30:5 (ESV)

All too well I remember when evening came.  It was at a time in my life when many things were transitioning.  Many would have considered it living the dream.  I was under appointment as a Missionary with an internationally recognized and reputable body of Apostolic ministers after having already spent time in Mexico assisting a missionary work and attending language school.  Traveling from state to state on deputation afforded the opportunity of seeing sights many have only read about in books or seen in pictures.  Thousands of miles later, things were not as dreamy as they had started out to be.

A great deal of anxiety came because of financial hardships.  These were exacerbated by rumors that turned into facts.  I had become the object of ridicule and sharp criticism by a number of Pastors and Ministers for some stands that I had taken in defense of what I believed to be right.  One such stand, in the cause of defending Home Missionaries, cost a substantial percentage of financial support and awarded me with phone calls wanting to know the private conversations between myself and host Pastors along the way.  In short, the tide had turned and a choice had to be made.

The choice became clear when God opened the door to a different avenue by which to obey the call of God on my life and, after almost a decade of fellowship, I withdrew from the organization.  But the period brought about a dramatic change in me as an individual.  Having now seen firsthand what betrayal, false friendship and insincerity among the ministry could lead to, these compounded with my preexisting feelings of worthlessness that I had struggled with my entire life and formed a perfect but disastrous storm.  Nothing I had done was good enough for me or anyone else.  Now, even when doing what I knew to be right, it was still not good enough.  When I was born I was an inconvenience to my mother.  When she died I felt like I became an inconvenience to my grandmother.  As an adult I lived with the feeling of being an inconvenience to everyone who knew me.

The evening turned to night and I slipped into depression.  No, I was not demon possessed.  No, I was not backslidden.  No, I was not walking in sin.  I was simply depressed.  Life, by my own permission, had thrown a saddle on my back and was ridding me mercilessly and I couldn't throw it off.  The world was a very dark place and remained that way for the better part of a year.  No one will ever convince me that the darkness was brought on because of a spiritual problem or demonic oppression.  Life just happened.  What happened afterward was that, once the depression sat in, I became susceptible to greater spiritual attack.  Everything I had tried to do for God and His Kingdom now looked like total failure and waste.   My investments in life appeared to be pointless.

I learned, in that time of deep depression, that it is not something you can simply "get over" or "pray through" in one church service.  It is a fight that must be fought every hour of every day until you finally pull out of it.  You are foolish to think it will simply disappear overnight.  Perhaps it will for some but, for most, it is not so.  There were days when I thought I was on top of the world only to fall back in the pit after a few hours.  Being patient with myself was another problem.  With many people telling me, "You've just got to make yourself feel better," it made me begin to doubt my own sanity.  Did people really believe that I wanted to feel like I was better off dead?

The daily fight lasted almost a full year.  At long last small beams of daylight began to shine through.  Could it really be that the worst was over?  No.  The night was just beginning.  My world would be rocked once again by the worst pain imaginable at that stage in life.  Infidelity entered my home and destroyed my marriage.  I was now faced with the second wave of darkness which I had no way of foreseeing and no idea how to overcome.  Now, having spent six years of my life working in Foreign Missions, I was faced with the reality that my ministry might be over because of a decision made by an unfaithful spouse.

What I thought was depression before was nothing akin to what I would soon suffer.  Not only did I feel like I was better off dead but, at times, suicide seemed like a reasonable and logical next step.  The blessing of a group of people coming under me and refusing to allow me to sink was invaluable but still did not drive away the darkness.  It was comforting to have people willing to keep their hand beneath my head to keep me from drowning, but that was an unsustainable dynamic.  Eventually I had to decide if I wanted to live or die and act relentlessly on one of those two alternatives.  I chose to live.  What that looked like was not clear but the determination was made: I will live while I am alive.  A switch flipped in my mind and I have not looked back since.  The key to overcoming depression is not God; it is you.  You will make the ultimate decision of whether or not you recover.  Once you chose to live, then God can help you.

I cannot say that every day since reaching that point of decision has been easy.  There are still days when I wonder why God wasted His time on a miserable individual like me.  But I have learned to embrace the words of Christ to the Apostle Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:9).  This does not mean that I have decided to live whatever life I choose regardless of the Word of God because I am trusting in the grace of Christ to overlook blatant errors.  Rather, I am content to walk in the grace of God and strive to live in a manner pleasing to Him regardless of what that might look like to others.

Have you lived in a day without morning?  How did you feel when others couldn't relate to you?  How did you feel about yourself when told you could just "pray through" your feelings of depression and it didn't happen that way?  Did it effect your concept of God?  Did it cause you to doubt your salvation?  For me, the answers to these questions are somewhat painful.  When others couldn't relate they tended to become accusatory.  It was all my fault.  Well, that was what I had concluded already and, believe it or not, that observation didn't help.  When I didn't just "pray through" like I had been told was supposed to happen, I began to doubt my own salvation and think that, perhaps, God didn't love me anymore.  I never began to see God as cruel; only as somewhat passive and uncaring at the moment.

Yes, I continued to step into pulpits week after week.  Yes, I continued to see people come to salvation because of the preached Word.  Yes, I continued to see miracles worked at my hand.  Yes, I continued to pray, fast, follow my devotionals and all of the other trappings of Christian life.  When I thought I had fallen from grace entirely, it was then that grace was all that sustained me.  What I couldn't see was the hand of God behind the scenes working out His will and good pleasure in the midst of my storm.  I was out of control.  My life, however, was in God's hands because I had put it there by my own free will and chose to allow it to remain safely in His grasp.

Many people walk away from God when the sun doesn't rise just when they think it should.  Abandoning the Faith and casting off the Savior's Way is all too common when the night tarries and the morning does not come.  Hold on.  Don't give up.  I am still unsure of how the story will play out but I am content to keep turning the pages one by one as God writes the book of my life.  I have learned to be content allowing Him to hold the pen.  Has morning finally come to my life?  I'm not really sure.  But I think I see the sun rising in the east.  If not, by faith, I will see another morning someday soon.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Was Hurt...By The Ministry

"As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.  Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard.  Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.  And Eli said to her, 'How long will you to on being drunk?  Put your wine away from you.'" - 1 Samuel 1:12-14

Hannah's is the heartbreaking story of a woman who desperately wanted to have a child.  No matter how her husband showered her with love and affection nothing could replace the deep longing in her heart.  It must have been terribly heartbreaking for her to watch happy mothers walking with their children, the sight of newborns held near to their mother's hearts and the daily buzz of youngsters at play in the streets around her house all the while thinking, "I will always be an observer; nothing more."  Hannah had reached a place of emotional distress akin to a nervous breakdown.

Very wisely, she ran to the House of God.   Falling to her knees exasperated by her anguish, the woman began to pray but words failed her.  Her lips were moving, her heart was screaming but the capacity to speak was stifled within her.  Seated nearby was Eli the Priest, a Man of God, who saw her actions and perceived them in a most curious way.  As he watched her mouth he drew the conclusion that this obstinate woman had come into the House of God in a state of drunkenness.  He arose, walked up to Hannah and rebuked her soundly.  And he was wrong.

Eli had made the ofttimes fatal mistake of assumption.  He looked at the evidence before him, misinterpreted it and reacted incorrectly.  Yet no one can question the fact that Eli was a Priest, a Man of God.  It is difficult to forget that Eli had great difficult with two rebellious and idolatrous sons who attempted to carry out their own priestly duties while in a state of sin and that he carried the weight of their actions most precariously.  But he was a Priest, a Man of God.  His was not the perfect life nor was his family the picture of spiritual fidelity.  He was a Man of God; a MAN of God.

Men of God are men and, as such, are not infallible.  It would be wonderful if a Pastor could stand and say, "I have always handled every situation correctly, treated everyone fairly and have never reacted incorrectly to anyone who God entrusted to my care."  Unfortunately, there is not a Pastor alive today nor has there ever been who could say so honestly.  Men of God are men.  Men make mistakes.  Men have misunderstandings.  Men misjudge, mishandle and, although having the best of intentions, might misspeak or mistreat.  Of course we hold Men of God to a higher standard than everyone else, but we must be fair and not expect them to be infallible.

Being hurt by the ministry is a great difficulty to overcome.  Part of that comes from the fact that we often look to the ministry as though they are never allowed to make an error in judgment.  It is unfair and unreasonable of us to put that yoke on the neck of a Man of God.  He is a man and men will fail.   We are not talking about Men of God who abuse their office and are obstinate or hurtful purposely because they feel their position entitles them to such a demeanor.  Rather, consider the plight of a Pastor who is doing everything in his power to carry out his calling according to the will of God and, in the process, makes a mistake.  Perhaps he makes several mistakes.  Perhaps he makes several mistakes in your regard.  That doesn't mean he is a bad man anymore than you making a mistake makes you a bad person.

UNINTENTIONAL ERRORS

How would you have felt had you been a desperate woman praying in church so fervently for a child that words just couldn't come out only to be faced by the Man of God and told, "Get up you pathetic drunk," when you knew he was wrong?  It was hurtful.  We probably wouldn't have reacted like Hannah did.  She explained herself and, in turn, received a blessing from Eli.  More than likely, we would have left in a huff, slung gravel against the side of the church building with our car as we sped out of the parking lot, slammed the door when we arrived home and then brooded over the event.  We would have talked about it with our friends, neighbors and other church people never thinking to take it to the Man of God who caused the offense.  This might satisfy our temporary angst but does absolutely nothing to bring about healing for our wounds.

So what should we do if we feel hurt by the ministry?

- Go back to the offending Brother.  Yes, "the offending Brother."  Although we are speaking about the ministry, that individual is your Brother.  A Man of God is still your Brother in Christ even though he has been entrusted with spiritual authority in the Church.  Obey Matthew 18:15.

- Give an honest assessment.  Have you ever done something unintentionally wrong to someone only to have them blow it far out of proportion?  It happens quite frequently.  Do not dress your offense in elaborate clothing.  Strip it down to basics and look at it honestly so that it may be dealt with in complete honesty.

- Accept an honest explanation.  Do not assume that you were hurt by the ministry because the ministry enjoys hurting people.  Such is simply not the case the majority of the time.  Instead, be willing to accept that a Man of God can make a mistake without that meaning he is a bad man just as you can make a mistake without that making you a bad person.

- Communicate with God and the ministry.  One would be foolish to believe that reconciliation is the end of a matter.  After an injury you will begin to, naturally, interpret future statements and actions through the lenses of your past experience.  Because of this, innocent actions may be misinterpreted.  Furthermore, there will be times when you will remember the past hurt and begin to give place to it all over again.  Bitterness is then only a step away.  In those times, have honest communication with God and with your Pastor and use that as a way to dig up the root of bitterness that may grow into a fatal fruit.

In a best case scenario and by following those steps, your Man of God will have the opportunity to respond as Eli did to Hannah; with a blessing.  Before you run away from the local Church, give your Pastor every opportunity to make right what may have been done wrong.

INTENTIONAL WRONGS

There are other hurts that come from the ministry which are far more severe.  These are when a Man of God turns into a monster.  Child molestation.  Adultery.  Lying.  Stealing.  These go beyond errors in judgment.  These are sins; crimes against people and against the holiness of God.  And while there is forgiveness for these sins, they all carry a heavy weight of punishment both by the law of the land and by the Word of God.  Many are disqualified from ministry because of their foolish and sinful actions.  We must be merciful but we must also not have so much pity as to ignore their acts and simply go on as though nothing has happened.

People's lives have been destroyed by monsters in pulpits.  These gross hypocrites have even used their positions to place others in victimizing positions.  What must be done to the Man of God so fallen from grace is a side issue.  But what about you who remain who have been affected by the actions of such a one?  As difficult as it might seem, the answer is the same as with unintentional errors although the methods are somewhat different.

- Go back to the offending Brother.  As difficult as it might be, there is a certain amount of healing which can take place when given the opportunity to forgive someone who has wronged you so deeply and despicably.  You are bound by the law of grace to forgive.  You are not, however, expected to forget.  The ability to forgive that individual is a gift of grace that must be sought in prayer.  You may not be able to do it right away but must work toward a place of forgiveness.  Again, forgiveness does not mean that you condone their actions nor that you will restore them to a "normal" place in your life.  It simply means that you have reconciled yourself to the fact that this individual has already hurt you enough and you will not allow a lack of forgiveness to send you to hell on their account.

- Give an honest assessment.  Do not exaggerate.  Do not give false witness.  Do not attempt to cover up.  Do not protect.  Do not defend.  Be honest.  When an intentional wrong of this nature has been done, come forward immediately.  But, whatever you do, speak the truth.  Do not lie.  Furthermore, be honest in seeking help and counsel in your recovery.  Do not be dishonest by saying you are alright when you are torn apart inside.  Get help.

- Accept an honest explanation.  This does not equal excusing the actions.  Deal honestly with the facts as they are presented to you.  Part of that honest explanation includes the fact that, just because THIS Man of God turned out to be a monster, not all Men of God are like him.  Trust will not come easily but you must find that place of trust in prayer.  You must accept honest answers to difficult questions even when those answers are hard to accept and possibly even hurtful.

- Communicate with God and the ministry.  Your prayer life will probably be hindered.  Be prepared.  You will find it difficult to face God because of the hurt that one of His representatives caused.  You must accept that it is not God's fault that a man transformed into personified evil.  God must be exonerated before He can begin to heal you.  Once you realize He is not culpable, you can begin to overcome.  This comes only by open and honest communication with God.  Furthermore, you must find ministry you can trust to aid you in your recovery.  It will be hard to accept and even harder to do, but you can find a Man of God who is trustworthy.  They are not all the same.  There are Men of God who will love you and help you through the process of healing.

IN CONCLUSION 

In a perfect world no one would ever be able to say, "I was hurt by the ministry."  We do not live in a perfect world.  We must learn how to live in a world of imperfection.  In doing so, it must be remembered that men are not gods, promises are only as good as the ones who make them and pain is an unavoidable part of life.  When we are the victims of an unintentional error we must be willing to reconcile.  And when victimized by those committing intentional wrongs we must be willing to be healed.  If you have never been hurt by the ministry, you should be aware that such a hurt will probably come.  Very few Saints of God, or other Ministers for that fact, can boast of having never been injured at the hands of the ministry.  This doesn't negate the ministry in the least.

We must press on through injuries and learn to respond to them properly.  In the end, the most important thing in our lives is not whether or not we made it through life unscathed but whether or not we made it to the end with our salvation.  Salvation involves overcoming.  Purpose in your heart to be an overcomer.  You are not in error to feel hurt at times.  We all will feel that way eventually.  You are only in error when you refuse to allow yourself to be healed.

"If you seek the physician's help, you must uncover the wound." - Boethius 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"And Jesus rebuked Thomas..." Or did He?

"Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord,' but he said to them, 'Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." - John 20:24-25

People who have never read the Bible are still familiar with the terminology, "Doubting Thomas."  This is because of the event outlined in John 20:24-29 and the stigma attached to the Apostle Thomas for his lack of faith after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But did you ever stop to consider that his lack of faith might have been reasonable?  Think of what this man had just been through.  We do not know exactly how long Thomas had been following Jesus but we can reasonably conclude that it was a period of at least a couple of years.  What remarkable things Thomas saw in that time!

Consider back in John 11 when news came of Lazarus' sickness and Jesus announced his death. It was the Apostle Thomas who said of Jesus to the other Disciples, "Let us also go that we may die with him" (verse 16).  Afterwards, Thomas was one of the witnesses to the resurrection of Lazarus and heard the proclamation of Christ, "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (verse 25).  There had to have been no doubt in Thomas' mind at that point of the reality of the resurrection.  He had seen with his own eyes a man laid in the grave for four days suddenly returning to live.  This is not to mention the countless other miracles he had seen in his sojourn with Jesus.

But now, after the praises of adoring crowds had changed into shouts calling for blood, Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle working Son of God, was reduced to nothing more than a horribly beaten, bloody figure of a man hanging by nails on a cross, motionless and empty of life.  Jesus was dead and Thomas saw it all.  As with the other Disciples, Thomas had forsaken all to follow Jesus.  And now, having been removed from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb, all of the hopes and dreams of this Disciple were dead and buried.  Can you imagine the feeling?

Can't you hear the promises of Jesus being repeated in the mind of Thomas?  He said He was the Savior.  He said He was the Son of God.  He said He was the way.  He said He was the Father dwelling among men.  He said He would raise from the dead.  One day passes.  Two days.  Three.  What happened?  How had Thomas been so foolish as to put all of his hopes in this man?  Can you imagine the heartache?  In a period of only a few days he had gone from a Disciple to a despondent and faithless character.  But who can blame him?  He had watched it all: the popularity, the adoration, the miracles and then the opposition, the persecution and the crucifixion.

Thomas was being reasonable when the other Disciples came to him claiming to have seen the resurrected Christ.  Certainly he had disbelieved.  Certainly he had doubted.  Most of us would have too especially when ten other people come to us who were also Disciples claiming to have had an experience that we had not yet had.  It might have even passed through Thomas' mind, "What a cruel joke to play on me after all I have been through!  How dare you!  Don't you understand what I have been through?  But...if I can see the nail-prints, I will believe."  In that moment of supreme doubt, there was a glimmer of hope.

What did Jesus do?  Eight days later, the Lord appeared to the Disciples and, this time, Thomas was present.  Giving a greeting of peace, Jesus walked past the other Disciples and offered Thomas His hand.  Jesus was so eager for Thomas to believe that He met him right at the place of his doubt and proved Himself to be alive.  We would have rebuked Thomas.  He would have been the object of our scorn and ridicule.  Of course, we do still call him Doubting Thomas, don't we?  How self-righteous we have become.  But Jesus Christ Himself did not rebuke him.  He simply condescended to a level on which Thomas could relate, even on the shifting sands of doubt, and reached out a nail scared hand of compassion.

Your questions will not knock God off of His throne.  Having questions and doubts are not unnatural nor are they to be condemned.  But you must learn how to deal with your questions and doubts correctly.  Bring them to Jesus Christ.  Don't hide them.  Don't be ashamed of them.  You are not abnormal because you struggle with disbelief.  Jesus Christ will not condemn you for it if you will give Him a chance to meet you at your place of doubt and prove Himself to you.  It may take eight days after everyone else is certain, but if you will allow God to work in His time, you will receive your answers.  You must be content to wait upon Him and trust that He will not fail you.

Thomas gave a bold profession of faith at that moment, "My Lord and my God!"  He had no more reason to doubt who Jesus Christ was.  Yes, the Lord told him that those who hadn't seen and yet believed were blessed.  But who among us is prepared to look at the Apostle Thomas and say he was not blessed as well?  Take your doubts to Jesus Christ and He will meet you there and prove Himself to be your Lord and your God.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Our Reaction To The Reed And The Flax

"A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory." - Matthew 12:20

The Church is often a very dangerous place to ask questions or demonstrate honest weaknesses.  The ministry of Christ was one where the frequent scene of spiritual education was a group of curious misfits gathered around the Master asking questions and processing answers.  Foolish or provoking questions were dispatched with wisdom while honest questions were received with love and answered directly.  Likewise, the drunkard, cheat and prostitute found in Christ a friend who would accept them as flawed while doing all that He could to draw them to a point of radical transformation.  Casting away the religiously self-righteous, Jesus of Nazareth bore the moniker of "a friend of sinners."

Fast forward to Christendom in the 21st century and we see that questions are often met as rebellion to authority and those with revealed flaws are viewed as cancerous tumors necessitating immediate removal to quell the risk of contagion.  In this way, we have fundamentally removed Christianity from Christendom.  True Christianity works in the order established by her namesake.  When the prophet Isaiah looked forward through the veil of time and was shown the coming Messiah, he spoke of His nature with poignant clarity: "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth" (Isaiah 42:3).  

Jesus Christ was not a weak character.  His sermons were not the popular tripe of the modern neo-secular "Christian" pulpit.  His message was one delivered with power and authority; a message with a direct call to repentance and a clear view of the consequences of spiritual negligence.  At the same time, the message was appealing to the outcast, the downtrodden, the unwanted, the unloved, the unaccepted and the otherwise unworthy.  How could it be that the Christ of the New Testament would attract such a crowd with a message such as He did while the religious caste was, for the most part, repulsed?

Consider what Jesus was always criticized for.  Being a friend of sinners was no compliment.  Those who clung to Him as their Teacher and Master were mainly a ragtag bunch of undesirables.  Yet Christ was open to their questions, patient with their weaknesses and willing to heal their diseases and, ultimately, change their lives and their eternities.  For this, Jesus found Himself to be the object of the ire of those who felt themselves worthy to enter the Kingdom because they were children of Abraham.  No wonder they were so terribly vexed when Christ told them that seed for Abraham could be raised from among the stones if need be.  He slapped their heritage in the face and disregarded their longstanding and parentage as meaningless without personal relationship with the Divine.  

The bruised reed would not be broken by the Messiah according to Isaiah.  In short, that which has already been injured need not fear further injury at the hands of the Savior of mankind.  Those who have been bruised by tragedy, disappointment, rejection, fear, heartache, the normal and abnormal situations of life and even those who have been bruised as a result of the consequences of their own foolish actions can look to Jesus Christ as one who will not destroy them.  One need not fear the severity of the Righteous Judge until He brings forth judgment.  Today, God desires mercy and, in the arms of Christ, perfect love and forgiveness is demonstrated.  To sinner and saint alike, the grace of God remains perpetually abundant and accessible.

Are you bruised? Do you have weaknesses which you have not been able to overcome? Are there flaws in your character that you have yet to be able to defeat? Don't run from Christ.  Run to Him.  Let Him take you in His arms and receive you.  Be willing to trust Him and the work He shall do.  While it may feel like He is breaking you into a million pieces at times during the purifying process, trust the promise of His Word that a bruised reed He will not break.  

The smoking flax or, in other words, the wick of a lamp which is only faintly alive with an ember of former flame shall not be put out by the hand of the Messiah.  The fiery zeal of a new convert is often extinguished by the trimming process of time.  One will not live for Christ very long before they realize it is not all Sunday night shout-downs and Wednesday night prayer meetings.  There is some real living to do beyond the doors of the Sanctuary which bring us back to the reality of having to live our Christianity and not only experience it in the safety of an institution.  Before long, the flame has died to nothing more than a smoking flax.  

So, certainly, we cast the wick away! Oh no! Certainly not! If there is even a hint of possibility for renewal and restoration, Jesus Christ will find a way to bring it about.  No one is ever thrown away by Christ simply because the fire has died, questions have arisen, problems and situations have caused confusion or any other number of means by which the fervency of times past has been replaced by a coldness.  Rather, there is hope in the person of Jesus Christ for the smoking flax.  The one that everyone would throw away and give up on is the very one that the Lord looks at and says, "Come to me if you are weary and weighted down." 

Christendom has responded poorly to the reed and the flax because, truthfully, they require us to be Christians instead of "Church people."  We are uncomfortable when they walk into our Assemblies because we have forgotten how to relate.  Yet we will often respond better to a sinner than a Brother who has become the reed or the flax.  It is far easier to feign piety than to practice godliness.  Instead of restoring the erring in a spirit of meekness while considering ourselves lest we fall (Galatians 6:1) we criticize, critique, berate and, in every way, provide an uphill climb for our Brother.  How foolish can we be?

To the reed and the flax outside of the covenant of God we must extend a hand of mercy, understand, love, grace, straightforwardness, honesty, clarity and hope for the purpose of reconciling them unto God.  To our Brethren we must extend the exact same hand coupled with the realization that we will need our restored Brother to, one day, restore us when we fall.  A bruised reed Jesus will not break.  A smoking flax Jesus will not quench.  Oh to God that a Christlike spirit would abound in the Church today that we, as God's Children, would do the same.